The Gambler (2014) stands on its own as a good movie. It hops around a little, from a classroom, with stadium seating, replete with gilded references to famous authors and their masterful novels, to the grim, unhealthy, underbelly of society. In the latter, attitudes toward law and order are somewhat lax. They allow for several exceptions and loose interpretations. After all, they cannot go to court to settle claims. The Los Angeles locations, none of which are familiar to me, make it an acceptable topic for a southwest film examiner. But maybe just under the wire. What I see in the picture is as good a reflection as any of how our economy, or possibly the global economy, operates. They call one aspect of it trading, without which you are outside the realm of capitalism, though not necessarily communistic. Many people cannot separate the idea of speculating in stocks or other financial instruments and playing games of chance at a casino. They are not without their reasons, though I think they fail to make relevant distinctions. Nevertheless, without betting, let’s say, the big bucks would quickly vanish. It would not be long before more and more value evaporated, and various, historical systems came crashing down. People would scrape about for pennies. But even these might not have any meaning without currency trades, which, needless to point out, entail bets, not uncommonly in appreciable amounts.
What transaction, for that matter, is not a gamble? If it were not, how could stores bundle objects together with warranty plans and care packages? Whether a Lazy Boy chair or a voice-activated recorder, it is unlikely the buyer will make the purchase without at least having to consider a plan for a price. Some people draw the line between things and thrills when it comes to shelling out. At least come home with a television set rather than nothing, thanks to a carousel ride. The former is going to last, while the latter is over and done with in minutes. But what about investing in a company that either makes or sells televisions, or runs an amusement park, where people buy tickets? Feel free to walk away. There is plenty to worry about without investments. But to eliminate the gambling factor in commerce is impossible.
Nevertheless, what exactly is this character, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) up to when he places all his winnings on black or red at the roulette table? The odds may start out fifty-fifty, but they gradually worsen every time he repeats the same bet, re-investing his winnings. He wants all or nothing — and nothing is dangerous on borrowed money. Naturally, this is the movies, not real life, though few of us are acquainted with illegal gaming, where it does not look savory from an ordinary point of view. Another film element apart from atmosphere and crude, shady characters that the film highlights, is the idea that personality alone determines who either writes superb novels or wins regularly at casinos. Not until nearly the end of the film does Jim admit that he is “not really a gambler”. He is also not a normal English Professor, though he gets something right I am not sure is worth the telling. That is to say, the gloomy fact that only a chosen few produce long-lasting, classical works of fiction. There is, as the Professor points out, a deep divide between true writers and others who only manage to publish, and, perhaps, if marketed, be read in number.
Edward G. Robinson starred in a movie (Night Has a Thousand Eyes, 1948) in which he had the gift of clairvoyance, including the ability to pick stocks. There are never-ending stories of fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers having bought stocks that went from mere pennies or maybe a few dollars to hundreds or thousands a share. There are also stories about gamblers who ran up tremendous bankrolls. Sometimes they walked off rich; just as often, they lost every last thin dime. But it is unlikely that high rollers ever played their chips the way Bennett does. His method is truly mind-boggling. Not for nothing is he called suicidal. Still, creditors continue to keep him well-funded. Owing to staggering, six-figure losses, he plays one loan shark against the other. I would rather not get into the element of risk, which also overlaps with the employment skills of professional traders. It makes no difference whether the object of interest is pork bellies, derivatives, or a pair of dice. There is no sure way to predict the future — or futures, for that matter. The larger point, other than “do not gamble,” if you can refrain from a bad habit, is that without traders, who are, to be honest, gamblers, it would be shocking how little material progress would occur.
I would recommend The Gambler as a crime film. It takes place in Los Angeles, and the West actually kind of popularized big game casinos, mostly in Las Vegas. Some of what is shown is much less glamorous and more private. If all you do is watch the movie, however, it is a safe bet you’ll live.